Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence

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  • I am writing this review hunched over a teensy netbook, pecking away at a little keyboard the size of a waffle. I am listening to Declaration of Dependence on headphones plugged into said netbook. It's oddly appropriate—this mouse-sized computer—to write in the hushed tones that Kings of Convenience demands. "Rainbows or burning bridges," whispers Erlend Øye on "Mrs. Cold," "If you squint a little more, it looks the same." And I swear he's talking about the tiny LCD screen on this Acer. Declaration is a more musically competent record than either Riot on an Empty Street or Quiet is the New Loud. It features the same ultra minimal brushed percussion, low-slung strumming and the Muppet lullaby vocals that have been the band's signature since the get-go, but the Kings are a session group now, working in tight synergy. Eirik Glambek Bøe's guitar work which was once predominantly endearing is now predominantly seamless. You can absolutely hear the jazz-combo aesthetic that defined Øye's recent Whitest Boy Alive outing, Rules. The melodies are softer and more loping here, but the lack of chaff and stepped-up musicianship stands out just the same. The stillness that made the Kings debut so jawdropping is still here. Standout "My Ship Isn't Pretty" is so barely there, a wisp of harmonics and unsure vocals, that you can hear Øye's tongue come to rest on the floor of his mouth in the silent spaces between the sounds. And, thematically, Declaration treads much of the same ground the Kings have explored before—relationship boundaries, the uncertainty of growing older, the simple beauties of daily life with its marbling of triumph and sadness. Make no mistake, this band is still twee as fuck, but they wear it with a little more distinction now, having traded their thrift store sweaters for patch-elbowed blazers and cleverer solos. Likewise, the influences Bøe and Øye engage with are a little more visible, simply because the boys' ability to emulate their heroes is more convincing. Tracks like "Power of Not Knowing" reveal the sudden-turn acoustic guitar that still makes a Crosby, Stills and Nash track exciting and "Peacetime Resistance" offers up a violin hook that wouldn't be out of place on an early Badly Drawn Boy record. The whole album is indebted to Bryter Layer-era Nick Drake, obviously. Perhaps that's what's behind the album's title: The duo are doffing hats to their artistic dependencies—a sign of artistic maturity and humility. There are few surprises on Declaration of Dependence. It's not going to win the Kings many new fans, and if anything, the studio cleanness and reserve may miff some that were drawn to the unpolished confessionalism of the first two LPs. But it's certainly beautiful and stands as a glowing example of thoughtful music by thoughtful men that doesn't come across as either self-serious or archly ironic. And god, what a breath of fresh air is modesty! (Insert Kanye interruption here.) Sense of netbook-sized scale is a virtue in an age when bluster so often acts as a proxy for achievement.
  • Tracklist
      01. 24-25 02. Mrs. Cold 03. Me in You 04. Boat Behind 05. Rule My World 06. My Ship Isn't Pretty 07. Renegade 08. Power of Not Knowing 09. Peacetime Resistance 10. Freedom and Its Owner 11. Scars on Land 12. Second to Numb 13. Riot on an Empty Street